Jersey Boys reviews

Mister Tee
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Re: Jersey Boys reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sun Dec 14, 2014 2:02 pm

Now that I've seen the film, I can answer BJ's question more directly: Oh What a Night isn't in the main body of the film because it has nothing to do with the period being covered. It's as if you watched a movie about Sinatra's life -- from the bobby-soxers through the From Here to Eternity comeback, culminating in the dominance of the Rat Pack -- and wondered why New York New York didn't show up; it's because it happened in a different era, however well-known it is today. Jersey Boys basically covers a period from the early 50s to about 1967 (when Can't Take My Eyes Off You was released). The 70s stuff -- Who Loves You, along with Oh What a Night -- came from half a different group. (The film did fudge, however, by importing My Eyes Adored You ten years before its actual appearance)

I can't exactly defend the film -- it's standard musical biopic, with all the usual roadblocks and high points. And you're both correct, that old age make-up at the end is hideous (I honestly had to peer close to figure out which guy was which). But, no doubt largely because it evoked my youth, I found the film reasonably engaging. It was probably better I didn't see it in the theatre: in the privacy of my home, I was able to sing along with the tunes, pretty much all of which I knew by heart. (For a while, I was disappointed they'd bypass Rag Doll, but even that showed up at the end.) If this was a group with which I had less familiarity (which would be almost anything post-1990), I'm sure I'd have been less forgiving. I'm surprised, though, BJ, that you were so down on the stage show. Watching the film, I could guess about how it was done in the theatre; I thought the multiple narrations would have worked pretty well theatrically (reviews from most critics seemed to find it a cut above the other jukebox musicals, largely for its narrative spine). I'm not going to pay Broadway prices to find out -- I definitely feel like I know the show enough for life. But it seemed like it'd be a painless one to sit through.

You are correct, though, BJ, that it was somewhat jarring to have that "Two year earlier" flashback. Looking at the song breakdown on IBDB, I'm guessing that maybe the first act ended with the debt revelation around the Sullivan show, and that the flashback began Act Two? That'd offer some explanation for what was otherwise a bizarre timeline choice.

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Re: Jersey Boys reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Tue Oct 07, 2014 1:25 am

I finally saw Jersey Boys on stage this past week, and I have to say, it made me a little more forgiving of what Eastwood did with the film version (though, yeah, I stand by my comment that the energy of David O. Russell could have worked better).

But frankly, I wouldn't have wanted ANY major director to have to deal with the challenge of turning this show -- which I found basically a shambles -- into something respectable in any way. Eastwood at least manages a level of narrative and spatial coherence the Broadway version lacks, but it's such aggressively boring stuff -- a tourist attraction not that much better than Mamma Mia, I feel -- that no one was bound to emerge unscathed.

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Re: Jersey Boys reviews

Postby dws1982 » Mon Oct 06, 2014 10:08 pm

I avoided this in theaters. I love Clint Eastwood, but after all those years of seeing the Jersey Boys cast trotted out on the Tony Awards, the thought of seeing this movie didn't appeal to me at all.

It's a frustrating movie. There's some truly excellent stuff here, stuff that I would consider worthy of Eastwood in his prime. It starts off pretty badly out of the gate. I appreciated the movie embracing its theatrical roots, and for the most part thought it worked, but having two actors in their mid/late-30's playing teenagers was just too much. And the final scene with the actors in old-man makeup...well, it's hard to think about much other than the old-age makeup. (John Lloyd Young looks like one of those actors from 1946 made up to play an Asian character.) But between the beginning and the end, even with a fairly standard struggles-with-fame plot, I was totally on its wavelength for much of the runtime. Even as a longtime Eastwood fan, I'm fairly accustomed to that usual random, WTF? terrible performance in each film, but I thought the actors were mostly excellent here. (Erich Bergen sits atop my Supporting Actor list for the year as of right now. Vincent Piazza was also great in the showier role) Even though we know the marriage between Valli and his wife is failing, the way Eastwood dispatches of it for good in one scene, "My Eyes Adored You" playing in the background, his daughter quite literally shutting him out of her life, is on par with just about anything else I've seen him do. Yeah, maybe he wasn't the best fit for this (But David O. Russell, BJ? For real?), but scenes like that make me glad to have seen his version of it.

A mixed bag, definitely, but a fair amount of worthwhile stuff in there.

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Re: Jersey Boys reviews

Postby Greg » Thu Jun 19, 2014 12:23 pm

"December, 1963" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" do stand out among Four Seasons songs in that they do not have any falsetto singing.
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Re: Jersey Boys reviews

Postby ksrymy » Thu Jun 19, 2014 1:52 am

The Original BJ wrote:The tv spots for Jersey Boys are also featuring "December, 1963" -- as with the Broadway musical, it's clearly viewed as the song that best sells the show.

My guess is that it has to do with the time the actual song was released. The Four Seasons didn't really do a whole lot of stuff until 1975 when this became their comeback song, in a way. It connected with the people who were fans of Valli ten years ago, and it connected with a whole new age group; this is without mentioning Valli's solo success around this time with #1 hits like My Eyes Adored You and, later, Grease.

It's also probably the song best known with them from people my age group.
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Re: Jersey Boys reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Thu Jun 19, 2014 12:58 am

The tv spots for Jersey Boys are also featuring "December, 1963" -- as with the Broadway musical, it's clearly viewed as the song that best sells the show.

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Re: Jersey Boys reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Mon Jun 16, 2014 4:35 pm

Mister Tee wrote:
The Original BJ wrote:"December, 1963" -- probably the best-known Four Seasons song

Is this true? And I ask that not to challenge the veracity, but to express something along the lines of "Can this dispiriting fact be so?"


Another possible generation gap perspective. I saw Jersey Boys with a number of friends in their 20's and 30's -- and every single one of us wanted to know why "December, 1963" was considered an after-thought in the movie, when it was the song we most connected with The Four Seasons. (Obviously, "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," and "Walk Like a Man" are also still very well-known, even among younger audiences, mainly due to constant play in movies over the years.)

Maybe it has to do with not being around at the time -- when all those songs were chart-toppers -- that makes that one stand out to me simply due to lack of context.

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Re: Jersey Boys reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Mon Jun 16, 2014 3:59 pm

The Original BJ wrote:"December, 1963" -- probably the best-known Four Seasons song

Is this true? And I ask that not to challenge the veracity, but to express something along the lines of "Can this dispiriting fact be so?"

I knew the commercials here in NY have always highlighted the song, and I think every time Jersey Boys has turned up on the Tonys this is the song the perform. But I hoped that was because it was a (relatively) fresher effort -- on the radio a decade or so after the other big songs.

The reason I find it dispiriting is 1) I never much liked the song (I called it the premature ejaculation song -- "As I recall it ended much too-oo soon...") and 2) it was representative of the group's fairly brief disco era re-emergence, not of their heyday. In that heyday (roughly five years, from the early to mid/late 60s), there was really never a time without a Four Seasons song on the radio, and several of them -- Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry, Rag Doll -- had solid stays in the number one spot. (Dawn (Go Away) might have, as well, but it came out during the high season of Beatlemania.) Plus there was Valli's enormous, more-or-less solo hit Can't Take My Eyes Off You. Any of these would come to my mind before December 1963 if I was asked to name a Four Seasons record. But maybe today's view is a lot different.

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Re: Jersey Boys reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Sun Jun 15, 2014 6:48 pm

I've seen it, and I have to say I found it mostly mediocre. I've been a fan of many Clint Eastwood films over the years, and I thought he seemed like an interesting choice for this project -- Bird was a compelling musical bio, so perhaps Eastwood would bring a similar sensitivity to the material here. The problem, though, is that a style that may have been appropriate for Charlie Parker seems all wrong for The Four Seasons. Eastwood's deliberate moodiness is just a total mismatch for the material, which should feel lively and full of energy instead of glum and embalmed. And the director seems to have zero interest in staging any of the musical numbers with the kind of pizzazz you'd want in musical set pieces. (I kept wondering what someone like Scorsese or David O. Russell might have done.)

But ultimately, I can't entirely blame Eastwood, as his lack of razzle just brings out the most fundamental flaw in the material: that it's just simply a showbiz story we've seen countless times before, without much fresh insight into the standard musical bio narrative. There are the early years of struggling to find lame performance venues, the rise to fame, the strained marriages (as Frankie Valli's relationship crumbled, I thought, I've been watching THAT marriage fall apart in the movies for years!), the money troubles and infighting, the fade from the limelight followed by the career redemption. At one point, I thought to myself, the only trope this movie's missing is for someone to overdose, at which point, almost right on schedule...

I initially admired Eastwood's choice to cast veterans of the stage production rather than the most inappropriate big Hollywood names, but it was a laudable attempt that unfortunately didn't pay off for me. I doubt this will be a big movie breakthrough for any of the leads, as they're mostly lacking in the kind of distinctive charisma that generally propels one to film success. (Probably not coincidentally, I thought the actor I know a little, Erich Bergen, who I think highly of as a stage performer, came off most successfully, in his role as Bob Gaudio.) But there's also just an inherent problem in the age range these actors are asked to portray -- Tony winner John Lloyd Young is pushing 40, and just seems way too old to be playing young Frankie Valli in the early scenes. And by the end of the movie we run into J. Edgar territory, with our four leads caked in silly-looking makeup playing the aging versions of their characters.

And then there were decisions here and there that struck me as completely off. "December, 1963" -- probably the best-known Four Seasons song -- doesn't even get performed during the main portion of the movie. Aside from a strain of the melody line in an instrumental at the top, it's saved for the curtain call, during which the entire company reappears for a big group number that's fairly bafflingly ill-executed I half wondered if Adam Shankman had suddenly taken over directing duties. What's presented as the inspiration for "Big Girls Don't Cry" is so laughably reductive I let out a groan when I realized someone on screen would utter the song's title in the most plot-contorted way...leading right into that number. Mid-way through the film there's an odd flashback structure that seems to serve little creative purpose. And I have zero idea what a bizarre (even by his standards) Christopher Walken is doing in any of this.

I could see the movie being a decent enough counter-programming hit -- it's one of the few movies in this dreary summer season my parents have expressed interest in seeing. But I don't see it getting much awards traction, unless it becomes such a commercial hit that the fact that it was a successful drama for adults will be enough to push it through.

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Re: Jersey Boys reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sun Jun 15, 2014 6:38 pm

Variety

Andrew Barker
Senior Features Writer @barkerrant

Though based on a smash-hit jukebox tuner that won four Tonys, Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of “Jersey Boys” can’t properly be described as a full-on musical. It does often hint at becoming one, just as it hints at becoming a “La Bamba”-esque early rock study, a cautionary tale about organized crime, and a sort of “Rashomon”-influenced take on the rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. But by the time it hits its first real Broadway-style production number over the closing credits, “Jersey Boys” doesn’t seem to have gotten any closer to deciding what kind of movie it wants to be. Embracing neither the fizzy energy of a Vegas-ready tuner, nor the grit of a warts-and-all biopic, the film nonetheless has its own peculiar charms, and should be able to capitalize on the source material’s enduring popularity for a respectable if modest B.O. haul.

Though Eastwood didn’t have the best of luck with musicals as an actor, this property ought to have been well within his directorial wheelhouse. As a helmer, he’s always had an astute ear for music; he excels at regionally specific ambiance and period studies, and here he avoids the musicvideo shooting style that has turned so many recent film tuners into brightly colored slurry. But as handsome as his compositions are, Eastwood’s filmmaking simply doesn’t have the snap or the feel for rhythm that the script’s rapid-fire theatrical patter requires, and the relative dearth of prominent musical performances turns what could have been a dancing-in-the-aisles romp into a bit of a slog.

Eastwood’s somber dramatic focus is on display from the start, as he opens not with a song, but rather a thoroughly Scorsesean scene inside a Belleville, N.J., barbershop in the 1950s: Golden-throated 16-year-old Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young) is a barber in training, attending to local mob boss Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken). It’s the kind of neighborhood where, as petty criminal and guitarist Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) tells the camera in direct address, the only ways to escape are joining the army, getting “mobbed up,” or getting famous. “For us,” he says, “it was two out of three.”

DeVito enlists Castelluccio as a lookout for a heist that goes sour and lands Tommy in prison, but from these inauspicious beginnings the seeds of the Four Seasons are sown. With Castelluccio renaming himself Frankie Valli, and DeVito’s fellow profiteer Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) joining on bass, the group is introduced to precocious songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) by wannabe talent scout Joey Pesci (Joseph Russo) — later known simply as Joe Pesci — and finally finds its sound.

Though the first 45 minutes are littered with sporadic song fragments, it’s only here that the film starts to truly resemble a musical, with Gaudio gathering his new bandmates around the piano to play “Cry for Me,” as each man joins in turn. It’s the sort of scene that was orchestrated far more organically in “Once,” but it’s nonetheless effective at conveying the joy of sudden harmonic epiphany. After they catch the ear of flamboyant producer-lyricist Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle, adding some welcome shadings to what could have been a one-joke gay stereotype), the Four Seasons shoot to the top of the charts.

The music finally comes alive in the middle section that follows. Staging three consecutive numbers as live television performances, Eastwood shifts among wide angles from way up in the cheap seats, glimpses from behind the TV monitors, and slightly obstructed views from inside the audience pit in front of the stage. This style might sap the sequences of some of the explosive engagement that a flashier director like Rob Marshall might have brought to the numbers, but it manages to honor the period and the material’s stage origins in a nicely unshowy way.

After this high, however, comes a rather long hangover. Interpersonal squabbles, money woes, groupies, domestic drama and lingering mob connections all cause predictable problems in predictable ways, and the film’s focus starts to blur, going for long stretches without any music at all. Even though each of the group’s four members take turns narrating their side of the story — breaking the fourth wall in a broadly theatrical manner for which Eastwood never finds a proper cinematic correlative — none of them really deepen into fully dimensional men.

Initially providing doses of Puckish mischief, DeVito’s insouciance gradually curdles into irritation, and he disappears for much of the last third. Valli remains unknowable, a good-hearted blue-collar entertainer without much of an apparent life. Gaudio, who bears an uncanny resemblance to “Election”-era Chris Klein, goes from teetotaling, T.S. Eliot-quoting square to bearded artiste with little in between. And poor Massi is the bass player.

Aside from “Boardwalk Empire” support player Piazza, three of the four leads were drawn from various stage iterations of “Jersey Boys,” and while all are solid in their respective roles (Tony winner Young does a stunning job channeling Valli’s sublime falsetto), they only occasionally seem to be surfing the same wave. Christopher Walken creates most of the film’s laughs by simple virtue of being Christopher Walken, but his doddering don screams out for a bigger, broader performance. The marvelously venomous Renee Marino gets a fantastic introductory scene as Valli’s first wife, Mary, and is then subsequently squandered as a one-note boozy nag.

Production designer James J. Murakami expends a good deal of energy on vintage period details, but it’s disappointing how little the story itself explores such an exciting era for music. Four Seasons contemporaries like the Beatles and the Beach Boys are never mentioned; nor is there any discussion of the group’s distinctive style, or the way a quartet with two ex-con members managed to sell themselves as such a squeaky-clean outfit. We see the boys receive a cake in honor of their three consecutive No. 1 singles, but we never get an idea what pop stardom in the early 1960s must have felt like. And the only real nod to the vicissitudes of recording comes via an unintentionally hilarious scene where Crewe, after hearing four seconds of “Sherry” over the phone, immediately declares his intention to double-track Valli’s voice on the record, helpfully hollering, “it’s never been done before!”

On a technical level, the film is strangely hit-and-miss. Tom Stern’s shadowy photography can be gorgeously low-key in one scene, then garishly lit and sheened with yellow in the next. Eastwood and editors Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach pull off some graceful slow pans and Sorkinesque walk-and-talks, only for some hideous rear projection to mar a few driving scenes. Costume designer Deborah Hopper does great work, but while the old-age makeup on display in the closing scenes is a noticeable improvement on “J. Edgar,” it still might elicit a chuckle or two.

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Jersey Boys reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sun Jun 15, 2014 3:26 pm

Hollywood Reporter

2:00 AM PDT 6/15/2014 by Todd McCarthy
The Bottom Line

A stage smash finds extra dimensions on film.

Clint Eastwood adapts the stage story of working-class street guys who made it big but never could entirely surmount their personal limitations.

A dash of showbiz pizzazz has been lost but some welcome emotional depth has been gained in the big-screen version of the still-thriving theatrical smash Jersey Boys. Approaching its 10th year on Broadway, the highly entertaining account of the checkered career of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is currently the 13th longest-running show in Broadway history and continues to flourish on tour. The film’s basic fidelity to its source, along with the music’s continuing appeal, suggests solid prospects among mainstream audiences for this story of working-class street guys who made it big but never could entirely surmount their personal limitations. Still, commercial uncertainties attach to the potential interest of young viewers unfamiliar with the band and musical milieu of a half-century ago, as well as in foreign-language markets.

Creatively, the big question here is how the seemingly odd matchup of Jersey Boys and director Clint Eastwood worked out. As has been widely noted, there’s perhaps no one less Joisey than West Coast jazz aficionado Eastwood, and suspicion has also surrounded the great old pro’s feel for Broadway musical tropes as well as his tendency toward deliberate pacing.

But while his work may lack the snap and precision of a Bob Fosse, not to mention the dynamic cutting of directors of the music video generation, it must be recalled that Eastwood has always displayed an enduring affinity for American popular music, an interest expressed in his music scene-oriented features (Honkytonk Man and Bird, not to mention his still-unrealized remake of A Star Is Born), the many music-based documentaries he has produced and the scores he has written for seven of his films.

Less tangible but more crucial is the director’s feel for the struggle, the long road that must often be traversed to achieve show business success, the price that must often be paid. Far more than in the stage show, which acknowledges the hardships but always cuts quickly back to fun stuff, there is stress on how being on the road away from mates and kids inevitably takes a heavy toll, and on the considerable cost of a determined commitment to success in the arts. While this is hardly banner news, its highlighting enriches the material emotionally and dramatically, providing a bracing dose of melancholy before the final musical surge. Like The Four Seasons, Eastwood persevered through ups and downs during the 1950s and into the early 1960s; that he's simpatico with their personal and professional travails is evident and adds heft to the film.

Jersey Boys may be a jukebox musical, but it’s a jukebox musical with a good book as well as a raft of songs that remain as infectious as they were five decades back. For the film, the show’s original book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice have retained their Rashomon-style structure of offering different points of view on events by shifting the narrative voice from one bandmember to another. Eastwood has smoothly incorporated the direct-address technique to the film, something mainstream audiences might now accept more easily than before in the wake of House of Cards.

Something else the film gets away with is having a 38-year-old actor play Frankie Valli as a 16-year-old. John Lloyd Young originated the role on Broadway in 2005 and, while other actor-singers have convincingly re-created Valli’s dynamic falsetto vocal tones onstage, Young demonstrated an indelible knack for evoking the original’s sound in his Tony Award-winning performance that no one else cold top. As little Francesco Castelluccio, the future star grows up in working-class Belleville with the pope and Frank Sinatra staring down from mantelpiece photos and pals that seem far more likely to wind up as made men than as showbiz luminaries, even if one of the more eager of them was the real-life Joe Pesci, a crucial supporting character here.

For a while, it’s sort of “American Graffiti Meets Mean Streets,” with Frankie and some sidewalk pals, notably good-looking small-time con Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), pulling pranks and an amusingly stupid botched robbery in a neighborhood reigned over by benevolent godfather-type Angelo “Gyp” DeCarlo (a smooth Christopher Walken); amusingly the name of Pesci’s character in GoodFellas is Tommy DeVitto. It’s 1951, the American pop scene is at its most syrupy and the musical horizons of Frankie, Tommy and their momentary cohorts are limited to tacky lounges and clubs.

Where Joe Pesci figures is in introducing the boys to Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), a straight-arrow, comparatively clean-cut kid who, at 15, has already written one national hit (the immortal “Short Shorts”) for his group the Royal Teens. Proud, hotheaded Tommy resists, but Bob’s amazingly facile songwriting skills, combined with the recording savvy of producer and sometime music co-writer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle), put the newly christened The Four Seasons (formerly The Four Lovers) in the groove for massive success.

Like the show, the film bounces through the pre-fame exposition in agreeable, surfacy way typical of Broadway musicals, establishing the essentials of Frankie’s talent and earnestness, Tommy’s short-tempered enthusiasm and recklessness and a feeling that something’s coming and it’s gonna be good. And, sure enough, at the halfway point, once bassist Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) completes the band and Crewe takes the reins, the floodgates open and the hits just keep on coming: “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man” were all No. 1 hits in 1962-63 and the roll continued with “Rag Doll,” “Bye Bye Baby,” “Let’s Hang On” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” among others.

But the silver lining of success hides dark and turbulent clouds beneath; unbeknownst to the others, Tommy, who doubles as the band’s manager, sinks deeply into debt to the mob, requiring the eventual involvement of Gyp and Herculean labors by Frankie to extricate them, while the latter’s near-constant absence from home fosters great guilt over tragic family events.

Still, as per the norm for musicals, there’s nearly always an uptick after disappointment and that’s easily found in The Four Seasons’ catalog. The continuing durability of these songs and Valli’s uniquely expressive high voice are the biggest reasons for the stage show’s great success. Very few other American pop groups with roots in the pre-British Invasion period remain as listenable today as The Four Seasons and this, combined with the GoodFellas-lite backdrop, give Jersey Boys, both onstage and onscreen, all the juice it needs.

But if the ultimate aim of the theatrical version, which began life at San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse in 2004 and was fine-tuned and re-cast before hitting Broadway, was to get the audience on its feet for the final feel-good medley, Eastwood goes for a more mixed mood, combining the joy of the music with what Valli, in particular, lost and could never regain.

Rather than lip-synching to pre-recorded tracks, the performers all sang during filming to live behind-the-scenes musical accompaniment in the interest of maximum spontaneity and credibility. Both musically and dramatically, all four actors playing bandmembers register distinctively; Young has Frankie down cold, Piazza (also in his late 30s) sharply expresses Tommy’s streetwise edge and impulsiveness but with enough likability to suggest why everyone always forgave the guy, while Bergen, a veteran of the show’s Las Vegas production, is very appealing as the nice-guy outsider who provided the essential missing ingredient to the band. Lomenda’s Massi, the last to join the group and the first to leave, hangs in the background much of the time but finally emerges interestingly when he takes over as a narrator.

Doyle’s brashly confident Bob Crewe supplies not only energy but interesting gay currents to an otherwise macho Italian-American scene. Bathed in muted hues dominated by tans and browns, the film has a warm, fulsome look courtesy of Tom Stern’s cinematography, James J. Murakami’s production design and Deborah Hopper’s costumes; one dazzling effects shot rises from ground level up the facade of Manhattan’s legendary Brill Building to peer in the windows of multiple floors’ worth of music publishers and agents.

Very occasionally, however, the feeling of the studio backlot is inescapable, and there are a couple of Jersey neighborhood vistas that simply look too California, including one with mountains visible in the far background.


Screen Daily

15 June, 2014 | By Tim Grierson

Dir: Clint Eastwood. US. 2014. 134mins

Clint Eastwood may not be the first filmmaker who comes to mind as an ideal candidate to bring a jukebox musical to the big screen. So what’s intriguing about his treatment of the Tony-winning Jersey Boys is how he homes in on the material’s qualities that most suit his style: the meticulous re-creation of period detail, the subtle questioning of how our impressions of history don’t always square with the facts. Unfortunately, Eastwood’s intelligent, unfussy chronicling of the popular musical act The Four Seasons is undermined by a painfully familiar rise-then-fall biopic structure, which nullifies this drama’s potentially more interesting elements.

Opening in the States on June 20 after premiering at the Los Angeles Film Festival, Jersey Boys will target older audiences who aren’t always well-served during summer movie season. Nostalgia for The Four Seasons — paired with widespread awareness of the Broadway musical, which has been touring nationally (and internationally) in recent years — could propel this Warner Bros. release to respectable grosses, despite the lack of stars. However, Jersey Boys isn’t merely a giddy recycling of durable pop hits like Mamma Mia! or Rock Of Ages — it’s more of a drama about a band, with songs — which may convince some that this film lacks the outright “fun factor” of those other jukebox musicals.

Spanning about 40 years, Jersey Boys charts the history of The Four Seasons, a 1960s New Jersey quartet that found fame as a squeaky-clean pop vocal group highlighted by the angelic pipes of their frontman, Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for the role). But their offstage lives weren’t nearly so innocent. Valli was on the road so much that it created friction between him and his wife and children, exacerbated by his infidelity. As for Valli’s childhood friend and bandmate Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), the hothead’s criminal past and connections to the mob eventually jeopardise the group’s financial future, threatening the legacy they’ve created after amassing a string of carefree hit singles such as Sherry and Big Girls Don’t Cry.

Winner of four Tonys in 2006, including Best Musical, Jersey Boys was lauded for its wealth of indelible pop chestnuts and its somewhat innovative narrative approach in which each member of The Four Seasons was given an opportunity to tell his version of the group’s story. That latter aspect has been reduced somewhat in Eastwood’s adaptation, credited to Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who also wrote the musical’s book. But that central idea remains: The history of a beloved musical act is never as simple as we on the outside might think.

Each of the four lead actors — as well as Young and Piazza, there’s also Erich Bergen as principal songwriter Bob Gaudio and Michael Lomenda as bassist Nick Massi — addresses the camera directly, their characters confiding in us how they felt about a particularly crucial moment in the band’s progression. These multiple, sometimes conflicting narrations create an expectation that Eastwood is once again upending our understanding of our shared past. Since his Oscar-winning revisionist Western Unforgiven more than 20 years ago, he’s made a habit of pursuing projects that rewrite history, whether it’s the black-and-white heroism of World War II (Flags Of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima), the reviled lawman J. Edgar Hoover (J. Edgar), or even the notion that the saintly Nelson Mandela eschewed calculated political manoeuvring to bring his country’s people together (Invictus).

The life and times of The Four Seasons aren’t nearly as epochal, which perhaps explains why Jersey Boys, despite its sombre moments, is one of Eastwood’s most playful and gently nostalgic films. (For proof, look no further than the director’s cheeky decision to include a scene in which a character watches the ‘60s TV show Rawhide, which just so happened to star Eastwood.) Nonetheless, there’s a nagging sense that beneath the pleasant, straightforward depictions of some of The Four Seasons’ many highlights — appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, landing three songs in a row at the top of the charts — Eastwood is setting the audience up, tricking us into believing the age-old lie about famous bands’ meteoric, unblemished rise to fame.

The problem is that, if this is the case, Jersey Boys isn’t particularly clever or insightful in how it subverts the conventional rock-star biopic. The main tension in the band comes from DeVito’s jealousy of Valli’s stardom — and the fact that, even though DeVito was the one who encouraged Valli’s talent and brought the band together, Valli soon becomes closer to Gaudio, the group’s creative genius who’s far more level-headed than DeVito. But these smouldering resentments don’t yield much heat: It’s all rather standard backstage drama in which young men linked by a shared ambition slowly start to tear apart as they grow up and drift away from each other.

The performances reflect this biopic’s fundamental conventionality. Young wonderfully mimics Valli’s ringing, joyous falsetto on deathless numbers like “Walk Like a Man,” but he can’t bring much complexity to a character who’s been drawn in broad strokes. Eaten up by guilt to be loyal to his floundering pal DeVito, Valli continues to stick his neck out for the guy, but we don’t see much internal wrestling over these decisions — nor is his womanising given enough screen time to register as some sort of personal failing.

Likewise, Piazza’s DeVito is all cocky posturing; there’s no pathos or demons underpinning his actions, and so the two men’s sibling-like rivalry feels tepid. (Christopher Walken plays a local gangster, to little effect. And as the awkward but talented and sweet-natured Gaudio, Bergen shows a little flair, but again this is a character encased in amber.)

Despite its familiar storyline — apparently, every great musical group started from humble origins, captured the public imagination, got famous, and then imploded — Jersey Boys does have its consistent minor charms. Eastwood effortlessly guides the predictable narrative along its comfortable turns, and long-time cinematographer Tom Stern crafts his dependably blue-grey images, which lend the past a vivid, hyper-real preciousness.

But without the moral weight and melodramatic gravitas Eastwood usually brings to his films, Jersey Boys ultimately doesn’t seem to have much to say about The Four Seasons, the mid-century America that spawned them, or the burgeoning musical scene to which the band was connected. This is even more frustrating because the final scenes, though undoubtedly meant to be uplifting, provocatively (but subtly) undercut the feel-good tone in such a way that we’re meant to wonder about the artifice of everything that came before. Over the last few decades, Eastwood has wilfully skewered and complicated our relationship with history. With Jersey Boys, he seems a little more forgiving, which isn’t nearly as interesting.


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